Forest Mushroom Mittens

All of my favorite knitting books follow the people’s history of the craft. Michael Pearson’s Traditional Knitting is, as far as I’m concerned, the best social history of knitting ever written. Nearly all the others on my list of top knitting books are primarily concerned with mittens: Latvian Mittens by Lizbeth Upitis, Folk Knitting in Estonia by Nancy Bush, Selbuvotter by Terri Shea, Mostly Mittens by Charlene Schurch, Folk Mittens by Marcia Lewandowski, Magnificent Mittens & Socks by Anna Zilboorg, Favorite Mittens by Robin Hansen. And what about the Ukrainian folk story, The Mitten?

I love mittens with a story, don’t you? Mittens are the most fascinating article of knitted apparel because no matter where they come from, they always seem to reflect the cultural and religious values of those who wore them. As contemporary knitters, we have lost track of the tradition of our craft. We knit for enjoyment, for fashion, to make gifts for friends and family; we drift from stockinette to cables to fair isle and back again, dabbling in all sorts of styles and techniques along the way with little regard to those who came before us. People like Lizbeth Upitis and Nancy Bush bring us back to the roots of our craft with their research in the folk art of the humble mitten.

Last winter, while rereading Lizbeth Upitis’ book, I followed a footnote to the text Latviesu cimdu raksti. Ornaments in Latvian gloves and mittens, by Irma Lesina, a text Upitis noted had many wonderful plates of mitten designs. Published by a small Nebraskan press in 1969, the book was long out-of-print. In fact, there were so few copies left in circulation that it took my university’s inter-library loan service a month to track down a Canadian copy for me; needless to say, it was most certainly worth the wait!

I pored over hundreds of traditional designs from Kurzeme, Latgale, Vidzeme, and Zemgale, recharting many stitch patterns that interested me. I created a large Excel file of stitch patterns, mixing and matching different ones as I went along. I remained faithful to regional distinctions, trying only to pair up patterns originating in the same region.

Copyright Jane Heller

Copyright Jane Heller

My Forest Mushroom design in Twist Collective Winter 2010 (Ravelry link) is one of the fruits of this lovely labor, combining several different motifs from the Kurzeme region of Latvia to be knitted with more contemporary colors at modern gauges.

Copyright Jane Heller

Copyright Jane Heller

The cuff is elaborately detailed and includes three distinctive brown and white braids before breaking into the mushroom-like pattern of the upper mitten. Unlike a traditional Latvian mitten, the top rounds off instead of coming to a hard point.

The peasant thumb is placed with waste yarn and knitted in the mushroom pattern to blend in with the mitten body.

Some designs you love more than others and these are one of my favorites; they combine everything I love about knitting: gorgeous colors, Latvian braids, long mitten cuffs, and old, complex, crafting traditions. Every knitter needs to make a pair of Latvian mittens in his or her knitting life, perhaps these will be yours!

The pattern is available at Twist Collective for $6.00.

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24 comments so far

  1. Andrea on

    Love these mittens. Have you seen the book: Eesti Labakindad Ilma Laande Laiali (Estonian Mittens All Around the World) by Aina Praakli? It is an amazing book of all sorts of mittens that would be right up your alley.

  2. Janet on

    As much as I love these (and have since I first saw them), I love them even more now that I know their back story.

  3. virginia on

    Lovely Mittens! Your bookshelf is missing Estonian Mittens Around the World. It’s in both Estonian and English, and rather lovely!

  4. riotyarn on

    I love the braids in these mittens. It makes it so pretty.

  5. Laura on

    I love these mittens! Once I get more comfortable with colourwork I’ll definitely be tackling the pattern!

  6. Melanie on

    Congratulations to a stunning design! I appreciate how much research and thought you put into the mittens.

  7. Audrey Knight on

    I’m grateful to you for going into so much detail about your design process. I learn a lot from you, and am inspired! Congratulations on your fantastic mittens.

  8. iknitipurl on

    love the mini mushrooms.

  9. Jen on

    Those are some mighty fine mittens! I love them!

    Thank you for all the book titles in this post, I wanted to read up on mittens and the social history of knitting. Now I have a great starting point! =)

  10. April on

    Such a lovely combination of patterns and braids.

  11. Ivete on

    These are wonderful and the story makes them even better! Great job on the design, I love the finished mittens!

  12. Mandy on

    Oh man. These are gorgeous!

  13. KnitterInPink on

    Ok I LOOOVE those mittens….but…I have a random request….if you don’t mind humoring me. Could you email me or post a picture of the INSIDE of the mitten? I’ve never done fair isle or stranded knitting…I’ve done intarsia…and I think I have an idea…but I’d like to see it.

    Yeah. I make no sense. :)

  14. isanou on

    Great minds think alike… I’ve designed a pair of mittens with a latvian braid this fall. Mine are quite different but see the similarities for the cuffs only? :) http://assofrancophonetricot.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/cest-parti/
    Your mittens are gorgeous!

  15. Joni on

    Love the combination of patterns in the colorwork now if I can only start that hat I have been thinking about all winter … :}

  16. MB @ Yarn U iPhone app on

    I really like the mittens shot on the bench shot. My mother has a bench…I might have to try a similar shot soon. Probably not with mittens though.

  17. Ingi on

    Very beautiful mittens! I was born in Estonia, a neighbourland of Latvia. Both are very well-known for the rich history of handicraft.

  18. Annhb on

    These are beautiful! Thank you for the list of mitten books!

  19. Linda J. Wirick on

    I do love all your knitting and sewing projects.But, I do miss seeing pictures of your children. they grow so fast. Hope medical school is going well for you. You are such a smart, talented women.

  20. Chandramouli on

    Fair Isle are always cool and never fails to attract me. Great work there :) Love ‘em!

  21. Karen on

    I believe the sweater in the above website it your. I would love to have the pattern as I am expecting my first grand child
    Thanks

  22. Andi @ Houston Boot Camp on

    Wow those mittens are lovely. My mom is an expert in knitting but I am her exact opposite. :( I wanna learn how to do it but she said she’s too old to be my teacher! LOL

  23. yarnydays on

    These are just gorgeous, and I love the whole background story….

  24. Erin C. Moody on

    Some designs you love more than others and these are one of my favorites; they combine everything I love about knitting: gorgeous colors, Latvian braids, long mitten cuffs, and old, complex, crafting traditions. Every knitter needs to make a pair of Latvian mittens in his or her knitting life, perhaps these will be yours!


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